People Don't Want To Be Managed – They Want To Be Led

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Some time ago, The United Technologies Corporation ran a headline in “The Wall Street Journal” that read, “Let’s get rid of management.”  The copy went on to explain that “People don’t want to be managed.  They want to be led.”

 =>  1.  Resistance To Management

They made a good point.  People don’t want to be “managed.”  They resist management because it’s too much like being “controlled.”  And yet I see people being “over-managed” and “under-led” in so many organizations.

It’s kind of like the two companies that decided to have a canoe race.  Each put forth their best team, and both teams practiced long and hard before the race.  On the big day, however, the Japanese team beat the American team by a mile.

Afterward, the American team became very discouraged and depressed.  So the American managers decided the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found.  A “management team” made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and one person rowing.  So the American “management team” hired a consulting firm to tell them what to do … paying them a great deal of money, of course.

The consulting firm said too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.  To prevent losing to the Japanese again … the following year … the American rowing team’s management structure was totally reorganized.  Now there would be 4 steering supervisors, 3 steering managers, and 1 area superintendent steering manager.

The Americans also implemented a new performance system that would give the person rowing the boat a greater incentive to work harder.  It was called “The Rowing Team Quality First Program” — with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rower.  Even new paddles and medical benefits were promised to the rower if he won.  After all, the “management team” wanted to “empower” and “enrich” the rower through this quality program.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.  Humiliated, the American management team laid off the rower for poor performance, halted development of a new canoe, sold the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment.  The money saved was distributed to the senior executives as bonuses.

In a silly kind of way, the story illustrates a truth.  When employees are “over-managed” and “under-led,” performance usually suffers.  Perhaps you’ve noticed the same thing in your organization or in a place you used to work.

Now I’m not putting down competent management.  It is essential in any organization.  We need written plans, clear organization charts, frequent reports, and regular evaluations of performance against objectives. But author John Zenger says, “Leadership pulls us into a new dimension.”

=>  2.  Need For Leadership

Zenger continues, “Leaders provide vision, motivation, and direction setting.  Leadership generates an emotional connection between the leader and the led.  Leadership attracts people and ignites them to put forth incredible efforts in a common cause.”

In other words, leadership brings out the very best in others.  So people need leaders.  It’s that simple.

And so do organizations.  This is a rapidly changing world, and organizations often find it more difficult to respond to change than individuals.  By their very nature, organizations tend to be big and slow.

You see … if your organization is content to coast along, managers are all you need.  The danger is that when you coast along … in a rapidly changing world or industry … over time, you will fall behind.  If you’re going to keep pace or move ahead of the competition, you need leadership … because strong leadership makes change happen.

Zenger also notes that “a business or government agency can function with managers if the goal is to be average and traditional.  For those seeking to create an ‘institution,’ with a culture and values that distinguish it from all others, leadership is a must.”  In simple terms, the truly great companies got that way through great leadership.

Take McDonald’s for example.  Without Ray Kroc’s insistence on order, cleanliness, and quality, they never would have become the world-wide success they are.  And without Walt Disney’s passion for creativity and technology, Disneyland and Disney World would have been just another cheap amusement park.

=>  3.  Leadership is a Behavior, Not A Person

Unfortunately, a lot of people misunderstand leadership.  They think it’s confined to a few select people at the top of the organization.  In reality, leadership behavior can and should occur at all levels, in staff as well as line management.

Dr. Walter Wright illustrated that point.  As the author of “Don’t Step on the Rope!  Reflections of Leadership, Relationships, and Teamwork,” he talked about how his 8-year old grandson Brandon could be a leader.

It just so happened that Brandon’s neighbor, a CEO of a prominent company, was going to be gone for two weeks.  He wanted to hire Brandon to feed his cat and offered him ten cents a day for the task.  Brandon said that wouldn’t be enough money to make sure he would remember to feed the cats.

The CEO counter-offered at twenty-five cents a day, but Brandon said “no.” So the CEO asked how much he wanted.  Brandon said a dollar a day.  They settled on fifty cents.

The day before the CEO left for his trip, he showed Brandon the food, and reaffirmed their deal at fifty cents a day.  Brandon looked up, in only the way an innocent 8-year old could do, and asked, “Do you want water?”  That would be another fifty cents per day.  He got it … because he exerted leadership.  It was his behavior … and not his position … that made him successful.

According to Noel M. Tichy, author of “The Leadership Engine,” all people have untapped leadership potential.  There are clear differences due to nature and nurture, that is genes and development, as to how much untapped potential there may be.  But no matter what level of athletic or leadership performance a person currently exhibits, he or she can make quantum improvements.”

=>  4.  Leadership By Choice, Not Chance

I don’t know where you are right now in life.  Perhaps you’re a receptionist, an IT professional, a construction worker, a manager, or even a parent.  But I do know this … if you’ve got some leadership potential inside of you — which you do — then you can also be a leader.  It’s a CHOICE you make, not CHANCE you get.

Despite that, the scarcest resource in the world today is leaders.  As Warren Bennis says in his book, “On Being A Leader,” “Although everyone can become a leader, not everyone will.  Why?  Because too many people are prisoners of their own inertia.  They lack the will to change and to develop their own potential.”

Becoming a leader, being a leader is totally possible, but it isn’t easy. If it were, we’d have a great many more.

Take a good careful look at yourself to see if you’re exerting all of your leadership talent.  If you’re not, I encourage you to do so.  And I invite you to attend THE JOURNEY TO THE EXTRAORDINARY experience where the entire second day is focused on helping you get the very best and the very most out of others. 

Action:  At one time, in high school or college, at work, on an athletic team, or in a community or church group, you made something happen through other people that would never have occurred without your leadership.  Recall some of those moments right now. Reflect on those times when you were most proud of yourself as a leader.

What characteristics of effective leadership did you demonstrate during those experiences?